Making your own mountains: How ultramarathons showed a Chicago runner that ‘anything’s possible’


Chicagoan competing in race through the European Alps

From a distance, the Chicago skyline rises like a mountain range made of concrete and steel. But at street level, the sidewalks are as flat as the sole of a shoe, and that’s what makes Marc Anguiano’s journey, worth noting.  

Illinois is flatter than every state, but Florid. Anguiano is preparing to compete in the Utra Trail du Mont Blanc, one of the world’s most rugged ultramarathons, through the most extensive mountain range in Europe: The Alps.

“It’s like, how are you going to be in Chicago, and train for a race that’s in the alps, right? It’s two extreme environments – and you can do it,” Anguiano said. “You can dream, and kind of think that anything’s possible.” 

To train, he runs up and down a 12-story concrete parking lot in Streeterville, one lap up and down is about mile.  

“Just trying to take advantage of the concrete jungle,” he said. “Running up an outdoor parking garage that’s 12-stories, so up-and-down a whole bunch of times and trying hard to simulate the climbing and the descending. Try and get out there and make it tough.” 

By day, Anguiano is a business strategy consultant. WGN News met him the day before he left for the race. He was packing in his Streetrville high-rise condominium. The UTMB is known in racing circles as the sort of Tour de France, of ultramarathons. The race bills itself as a ‘mythical and unique’ event.  

Chicago ultramarathon runner March Anguiano

“It’s been kind of one of those things I’ve looked at right from the start as I got into ultra, and knowing it’s like the pinnacle,” Anguiano said. “It’s the world’s race of ultra. So, a bunch of countries, 100 countries or so come in to do this, and I know it’s super hard, and super beautiful, so I always had my sights on it and wanted to get out there and see what all the hype was about.” 

American women fared well at UTMB, winning seven times, but no American man has ever won. This year, Jim Walmsley, the most dominant name in the sport is running the race, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can bring the U.S. its first title in the prestigious race. (You can track his progress here.)

Anguiano was born in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood, raised in the suburbs, and educated at Northwestern. He described himself as more of a “weekend athlete,” until he tried a 50k race on Chicago’s lakefront and couldn’t wait to compete again in another ultramarathon-style race.  

“It was totally different than anything I was used to, race wise, and just fell in love with the community, and how difficult it was, but the accomplishment, and I’ve been hooked since,” Anguiano said.  

UTMB elevation chart

Since then, he’s competed across the country from Wisconsin to Utah, and around the world from France to Argentina – each race, a test of skill, and of will. His 91-mile race is one of seven at the UTMB, it’s called the TDS short for “the Tracks of the Dukes of Savoie.” He has 44 hours to complete the punishing trail that will take him through cold and warm climates.   

“It’s a huge mental game out there, and if you think about all you’re trying to do right from the start, or at any point in the middle, you’re going to crumble,” Anguiano said. “So really, it’s just one foot in front of the other and realizing that if you’re having a tough time, five minutes later it could totally change and you could be on top of the world, so it’s extremely mental, and part of what I really enjoy about it.” 

The mountain races can be treacherous. Last year, a runner from the Czech Republic died after a fall on a difficult stretch of the TDS race. This year, a Brazilian runner died in an accident in the 300km PTL race, as first reported by Trail Running Magazine.

Anguiano developed a stomach bug on day one of the race and after fighting flu-like symptoms, for nearly 15 hours, he withdrew from the competition.

“Definitely a frustrating time out there,” he said in a message from Europe. “I do these things to push what is possible. There is some true strength you can gain from failed attempts.  There isn’t always ‘just the glory of the finish line.’ I feel like my mental perseverance and ‘on-the-go problem solving’ really grew in this experience and that my next attempt will be even stronger because of it.  And I do assure you, there will be more.” 

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